Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The rise of the traditional wine

"The only shocking stance now is to be traditional," said UK writer Alain de Botton on Twitter the other week.

And oh so applicable to the wine world, is it not?

I believe it probably started with the release of Mondovino back in 2004 (Jonathan Nossiter's interesting but overly long and indulgent wine film which was the very embodiment of de Botton's statement). Nossiter's film, while exposing many important issues in the wine world today - which includes exposing the Antinoris as fascist sympathisers - had as its conclusion this idea that the 'traditional' was to be defended.

[Nossiter may well disagree with my interpretation: after the film's release, he had the ultimate intellectual arrogance to not state his position. This was a commendable stance only in the sense of letting the film speak for itself.]

But now it seems the 'traditional' is gaining over the 'modern'. In fact, there is less and less talk of new oak, extraction times, micro-oxygenation, 'Parkerised', and more of 'hand-harvested', 'manual', biodynamics (the ultimate in traditional), 'organic', and so on.

From this we might tackle a few things.

Firstly, it is becoming increasingly clear that Robert Parker (an unwitting advocate of the 'modern') is being overtaken by the times. I think his influence, especially in Bordeaux, will continue for a good while. But, whether it is through his support of a 'modern' style or through the simple fact that internet wine writers will become the new Robert Parker (history is repeating itself) or both, I think change is in the air.

Secondly, what does this tell us about progress in the wine industry? For instance, is it possible to get any more new oak into a wine? Is it possible to make anything more labour-intensive than hand-harvesting and manual destemming? Can we find a wine that has more alcohol/extraction than went before? No. In a certain sense we've reached the boundaries of 'innovative' winemaking (progress if you wish) and thus, perhaps, we are seeing a return to craftsmanship.

As a sub-clause, this stance enables us to question what 'progress' really is. For instance, when we say so-and-so have 'made progress' in the last few years, what exactly are we talking about?

Thirdly, the economy may well have something to do with it. Remember, overheads drop considerably when one does not vinify Cabernet in 200% new oak. It makes business sense to be 'traditional'.

Lastly, wine is a traditional beverage in itself. How many people worry about traditional winemaking becoming a thing of the past in Barolo? OK, maybe not a lot - Italy seems to have a healthy quota of opinionated winemakers - but you see my point?

But, if we are, in essence, re-acquainting ourselves with the traditional, what of 'progress' in the wine world? Should we perhaps not be a little beware of this 'traditional' trend?

Perhaps we should. While I wholly embrace a multitude of wine styles, some of which many people might find appalling, we have to remember that whatever his faults, Robert Parker did start out with one criteria: the wine had to be good.

Personally, I don't think wine has to be 'good', but in the last 30 years, the wine industry has grown hugely and as we start to immerse ourselves in the traditional, perhaps we should not forget our 30 years of 'progress'.

  • The start of the return to the 'traditional' could go back to Bordeaux's 2003 vintage. In itself a polarising vintage, but it was the Parker and Robinson spat over Chateau Pavie that could been seen as the high-tide mark of the 'modern'. Who wrote that article, I wonder...

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  • Tuesday, 16 March 2010

    Wine and its metaphors

    Whenever I attempt to make a point about something wine-related, I tend to roll out my favourite wine metaphor: books. It's easy to equate wine with books: we have our favourite authors and some of their books are better than others; sometimes we just feel like a straightforward thriller, sometimes we prefer something a little more intellectually stimulating. Although I won't go into literary deconstruction theory and its application to wine here (that's another blog post, coming shortly), it is a parallel that has served me well.

    Other people like to use works of art as a parallel to wine. Some use other objects of desire or enjoyment or status including diamonds or designer bags.

    But the massive problem with all these metaphors for wine is that they don't function unless you assume that you can only enjoy a book for an evening, a diamond for a day or a bag for an hour. Because essentially, wine self-destructs.

    Other metaphors some (in fact there are more than 'some', I have met quite a lot) people like to use is that of a woman or a woman's body - you know: 'a woman is like a fine wine' or 'a New World wine is like a woman with fake breasts'. While I can understand the aesthetic rationale (wine/women as objects of desire and pleasure) behind this parallel, it often seems to me to say more about the person saying it than it does about the wine.

    Think I'm being over-sensitive on this issue? Well, a woman last night told me a winemaker once said to her, 'a vine is like a woman: the more it suffers the better the outcome'.

    Indeed.

    As I was writing this I thought I might have hit on the perfect metaphor in applying the 'wine is a woman' metaphor globally, removing the implied desire and 'saying wine is a human being'. Indeed, we are the product of the vine (nature) and the winemaker (upbringing), we are geographically similar, and we age similar to fine wine.

    But the aptitude of this depends on your vision of the human being. If, like so many people, you believe that human beings are essentially the same the world over, then the metaphor is holed below the water line.

    You'd also have to say that you only get 12 chances (a case of wine) to see an old friend you met once when s/he was a child.

    Yet again, it's a good metaphor but perfect it ain't.

    I was going to end with one of those lovely and typical blog endings: 'do you have a perfect metaphor for wine?' but I don't want to be disingenuous. Unlike 'all the world's a stage', I don't think any metaphors for wine are capable of being extended.

    Well that's a whole morning wasted.

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    Tuesday, 9 March 2010

    Wine and guilt

    "When, after long years of discipline and fantasising about the transgressive pleasures of the outside world, the adolescent Amish are, unprepared, thrown into this world, they, of course, cannot but indulge in extreme transgressive behaviour and throw themselves into a life of sex, drugs and drinking. And since, for such a life, they lack any inherent limitation or regulation, this situation inexorably backlashes and generates unbearable anxiety."

    Slavoj Zizek's examination of 'enjoyment as a political factor' has similar repercussions in wine. Why, for instance, are we becoming increasingly obsessed with low-alcohol wine and reducing our alcohol consumption? I believe it is because we have reached our very own situation of 'unbearable anxiety'.

    Does this anxiety strike us when we have that 'one glass too many'? Does it stalk a well-lubricated dinner party like a Shakespearean ghost? Perhaps. I believe that, in an effort to at least appear progressive and understanding of today's issues, many of us are forcing ourselves to take seriously the 'problems' associated with our own enjoyment.

    We are already concerned with de-caffeinated coffee, non-alcoholic beer, virtual sex, and so on. I have already addressed some of this in my wine and health blog.

    Thus we get 'de-alcoholised wine', made in Spain and aimed at an Italian market.

    This article touches on several major issues within this debate. The first is in the headline: 'Dealcoholised wine launched to combat alcohol abuse'. Again and again in the health lobbies, wine is equated with alcohol. This lumping together of the two is partly academic in the sense that wine is an alcohol, alcohol is dangerous, therefore wine is dangerous.

    Even arguments that wine is a cultural beverage and therefore exempt from being lumped with all alcohols does not stand scrutiny, I'm afraid, for the simple fact that all alcoholic beverages are, or were, cultural. The major issue here - one that very few people want to address - is that commercialisation is the problem.

    There is also the problem that while every article that bemoans the dangers of alcohol calls for tighter control of alcohol consumption, the articles that proclaim the benefits of alcohol do not push increased consumption. That, of course, would be irresponsible.

    Another point is that, at a time when we are more and more concerned with the 'natural' aspect of wine, of trying to keep intervention to a minimum, this low-alcohol wine is 'vacuum distilled'. Even Torres' low-alcohol wine takes absurdity to a new level in this domain by calling itself 'Natureo'.

    There is further absurdity here:
    'We're not in competition with traditional wine. It's a new drink, equal to decaffeinated coffee or non-alcoholic beer,' Bertolini said.
    To which the retort: why call it wine?

    And part of the answer to that comes in looking at who this 'non-alcoholic wine' is marketed at: the under-aged - 'young people' as they are called in the article.

    This is the most terrifying aspect of all. While the 'wine' ticks all the 'modern' boxes of making a trendy, healthy alternative to wine, it is essentially marketed at your children.

    And once again, we face the issue of rampant commercialisation (this time taunting our children with 'wine') while we are unable to find a logical, coherent argument as to why this is bad.

    We now live in a world where, as long as we can consume something called wine (although not necessarily real wine), drink it without anxiety and keep wine companies in business, everyone will be happy.

    Or will they? As Zizek states, although 90% of Amish offspring come back to the fold, have they really been given a proper choice of freedoms? Thus are we giving ourselves the right parameters to judge what is healthy about our wine consumption?

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    Wednesday, 24 February 2010

    Wine classification: do we really need it?

    My initial reaction to reading Matthew Jukes and Tyson Stelzer's (3rd) classification of New Zealand Pinot Noir was akin to that of watching your 15 year-old brother being dragged out of school to go and work in the mills. Why does such an interesting and growing wine country need a classification that only implies stasis?

    Well the first answer is probably that the classification is revised yearly, so no stasis is implied. The problem with yearly revisions (similar to St Emilion's abortive attempts at a 10-year classification) merely hints that classification as such is impossible.

    As a potential guide to the current darlings of the region, that's fine. But set in stone? I doubt it. It's simply Jukes and Stelzer's 'favourite wines so far'. So why call it a classification?

    Wine writing is merely the attempt to make the ephemeral concrete. Just because a critic doesn't smell or write down 'the aroma of camphor' or 'my granddad's aftershave' doesn't mean it isn't there. But that doesn't mean the wine writer won't give it a go. So the same with classifications.

    Faced with such a vast array of wines, I believe there is a desire to pin down the best. And to do it in a league table? Perfect: it's like Polo rankings and booze combined. You can talk about it until the cows decide they've had enough wandering in other paddocks and prefer the comforts of the hearth.

    I believe that part of the desire to classify wines also serves no other purpose than pure bragging. It is the perpetuation of the notion that the likes of Jukes, or Langton's (which classifies Australian wine), is 'supposed to know' more than the rest of us. If he did not believe he was the authority on New Zealand Pinot Noir, would Jukes say: 'Three years ago I had a bit of a rant and told producers they weren't as good as they thought they were'?

    The point, I think, is that wine cannot and should not be classified. The ultimate classification, the 1855 in Bordeaux, is so distanced from reality I believe that its perpetuation is due to the desire to keep five châteaux at the top of the pile with a few other potential investment opportunities below. Imagine a Dow Jones or a FTSE where five companies were always at the top and could be guaranteed as such. Haut-Brion, Latour, Lafite, Margaux and Mouton are those five companies.

    Perhaps we should all draw our inspiration from Pomerol and leave aside a classification.

  • Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe we should physically force all wine critics nail their flags to the mast and classify each region according to their taste? In fact, I would love to see that.

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  • Monday, 22 February 2010

    Reclaiming wine's middle ground

    I have a friend whose uncle is a pig-farmer in Normandy. The animals live in a big warehouse, where they are penned-in; they walk on grills so the excrement falls through and is easier to clean; and they never see the daylight, or a field.

    Most people who visit ask him why he raises the pigs in such a way - does he not feel sad, as a farmer, to see animals like that?

    His response: 'Of course I feel bad. I would love my pigs to be able to go out in the open and have a better life. But as long as you insist on paying €2 for your bacon, I have no choice.'

    But of course we have a choice, don't we? We don't have to insist on buying supermarket own-brand streaky bacon, we could get a few slices of certified Danish bacon if we felt a little guilty, or take it up to an organic bacon produced by the Prince of Wales if, maybe, friends were coming over for breakfast. We have a choice, don't we?

    Or do we? If, on the back of the Red Bicyclette scandal, where 18 million bottles of Syrah and Merlot were labelled as Pinot Noir and nobody noticed the difference, we can extrapolate that the majority of consumers don't care what their wine is as long is it tastes good, then the only choices they are going to make will be to chose the cheapest wine on offer*.

    And the only people that can provide large volumes at low prices are very very big companies via supermarkets - it's economies of scale (and will lead to much bigger wine corporations - in itself reducing your choice). Not only will this put the screw on small producers, it will likely cause a drop in prices in the mid-range wines because there will be too much of a price gap between the supermarket wine and the €10+ bottle of wine. Either that or they'll be swallowed by the giants, or fall through the grill in the floor.

    Let's also look at the trend at the other end: top wines are becoming a luxury market, out of the reach of most consumers and more readily associated with celebrities (Champagne) and investors (Bordeaux) - more so than in the past. I've written enough about this in previous articles so I won't force the point.

    So what of the middle ground? With French vineyards told to embrace the Jacob's Creek model, while Australia tries to tackle 'oversupply and low commodity prices', and we all go looking for the 'broad appeal' of wine - all while European MPs guzzle endless Champagne on expenses, perhaps we should wonder if the pull at both ends of the wine world will be enough for the bottom to drop out of our beloved middle ground.

    Sometimes, the massive choice of wines, all at different prices, isn't all it's cracked up to be.

    * Incidentally, it's interesting to understand how supermarkets view the concept of choice. I once (a long time ago) complained to a Waitrose manager that the supermarket was selling green beans from Zimbabwe. 'But the consumer can still chose, can't they?' he said. 'What choice do they have?' I replied. 'They don't have to buy it.'

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    Monday, 15 February 2010

    Wine and health

    More than ever, we live in a world of symbols. In a strange form of metonymy, our interpretation of what goes on around us often takes the radical part to symbolise the whole. Artists are a crazy bunch of pig-tattoists, Muslims are all potential terrorists, and all wine drinkers are alcoholics.

    Alcohol abuse now has to stand for everything, from a few beers down the pub, to a Valentine's day bottle of fizz, to dropping neat vodka into your eyeballs. Soon, all bottles of wine will carry health warnings - along with anything else that contains alcohol. Like the whole school being kept in an assembly until someone owns up to breaking a window, it has become not only academic to group all alcohol together in one massive social problem, it has become imperative to punish everyone for it.

    Health warnings are an unusual thing in that, because they feature on a product one takes home, they represent an attempt to regulate our private lives. For health warnings not to be so duplicitous, they would have to be inscribed in wine glasses in bars and restaurants.

    In a bizarre compromise to the foundation of our society (business), health warnings do not prohibit one from buying such a dangerous product, they merely invest us with a feeling of guilt once we have done so.

    And here we enter into Slavoj Zizek territority. The Slovenijan cultural critic claims that the freer we are, the more we want to censure our freedom.

    From whence we get butter without fat, laxative chocolate, virtual sex, and, yes, you guessed it: low-alcohol wine.

    Here another aspect comes into play: the need in our society to be seen to be doing the 'right' thing. Low-alcohol wine is the talk of wine journalism at the moment because it combines the enjoyment of wine without the guilt of alcohol. That would be great if we were all going out to buy German Riesling, but we're not. Big producers are getting the Reverse Osmosis machines out, and while we try to do better by ourselves we de-naturalise the very thing we love.

    Unnaturally low-alcohol wine is a horrible con, perpetuated by our desire to be seen to be 'doing something'.

    And who are we doing it for? Denis Saverot, editor of the French wine magazine La Revue de Vin de France' argues in his book In Vino Satanas that the health lobbies and scientists, responsible for making clear the dangers of wine, are mostly funded by large pharmeceutical groups. It is no coincidence, says Saverot, that wine consumption in France has declined, while the taking of pills and drugs (a massive phenomenon in France) has increased. Essentially, he says, its drugs versus drink.

    Saverot might be overstating the case, but it is worth remembering that much scientific (health) research is paid for, often indirectly, by pharmaceutical companies. I doubt I need to make a case against these massive businesses, but it is worth remembering that while the likes of Alice Feiring may despair at the state of the wine world today, she has no compunction about divulging which pills she drops to get through a long-haul flight.

    So, as we watch our pleasures getting driven indoors by the health police, it might be time to wonder if we really should be listening to those who tell us they know best. It might be worth bearing this in mind:

    "The state is based on this contradiction. It is based on the contradiction between public and private life, between universal and particular interests. For this reason, the state must confine itself to formal, negative activities."

    Karl Marx

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    Thursday, 11 February 2010

    The consumer must not become a wine critic

    The title pretty much explains where I'm going. It follows Beverley Blanning MW's reappraisal of Tim Hanni MW's comments on her blog.

    Now I will make a concrete case against the consumers becoming their own critics.

    1 - I used to hate leeks as a kid, now I love them - I even grow them. This can be the same as wine. Let me illustrate: has anyone seen the film Big Night Out? No, well it's about two competing Italian restaurants in an American town. One gives the diners what they want: meatballs in tomato sauce, lasagne, etc. and is wildly popular and successful; the other cooks beautiful, traditional Italian cuisine with a hugely talented cook, but is failing because no one understands it. It feels like a terrible shame.

    Now, I'm not saying that a wine bottle in the hand of shopper is like an iPhone in the hand of a chimp, I'm simply saying that critics can lead us to a better understanding of wine (like a bone in the hand of a chimp - with the 2001:A Space Odyssey music to boot).

    Put simply, if we let the consumer decide what's what, the already fragile bottom of the Fino Sherry market will drop out comprehensively. Seriously, find me a wine lover who loved Fino at the first taste (I thought I was going to throw up, but now I love the stuff).

    2 - As I've said before, who gains? Yes, we all love a bit of power to the people (not least me - but we wont get into my voting preferences here), but in this guise of returning wine to the people, who is going to influence the consumer if no wine writers can? I'll tell you: people like wine merchants (ask yourself who Hanni has developed his personal tasting gizmo with), wine marketeers, supermarkets and the writers of the back label.

    Why are wine companies now offering so many win-a-week's-winemaking-and-blog-for-us competitions? Because it does just this: it takes the power away from the wine writer (the 'subject supposed to know' if you like Lacan) and more or less ensures a malleable voice that will promote the winery in an entirely positive light.

    3 - THE MOST DANGEROUS ASPECT: the argument doesn't make sense. The fundamental mistake that we are making here is to equate personal enjoyment with personal choice.

    Hanni is telling us to be our own critic, assuming this means we can choose our own wines. Herein lies the problem. Imagine a film critic saying: 'you be the judge, and then go and see the film'...how can you judge it without seeing it? You'd have watch every single film available (or made) - by which time, I'd probably rate you quite highly as a film critic.

    The same is true of wine. Unless, of course, the consumer is allowed to try any wine before they buy it - something I am entirely in favour of. But you see the issue, right? It doesn't make sense. By the time you've bought it to assess it, the cash register has already sounded, and everyone (bar the wine writer and possibly the consumer) is happy.

    So there you go. Sure, the consumer can become a wine critic, but let's do a test - let's allow him or her to taste any bottle on the shelf before they buy it...

    Then they'd be a real critic. Until then, we must not allow the marketeers and wine merchants to take over the realm of recommending wines.

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    Wednesday, 10 February 2010

    Why Malcolm Gluck is wrong

    When he wrote for wine trade mag Harpers many moons ago, Malcolm Gluck was one of those people I loved to hate. Harpers probably realised that there were many people like me who used to tear open the plastic around the magazine, plop it open, flick past the news, the serious columns and read Malcolm's, expecting, nay knowing, I would find something to be annoyed about. It was like purposefully going out to buy the Daily Mail in order to read Amanda Platell's column, purely for the purpose of working oneself up into a fury. Funnily enough, Malcolm has got himself into the Mail too.

    He has joined the Hanni crowd, saying, among other things, that wine critics talk rubbish. I can understand this but I have my reservations too. Like I said in yesterday's news blog, the wine talk is the mystique is the 'crap' is the enjoyment of reading about wine. What role would Malcom have critics take? Just publish a list of scores like Robert Parker's latest Wine Guide? What would that reduce critics to?

    And why the bloody hell is it that Hanni and Gluck, two people so immersed in the wine trade, feel they represent and understand the perception of the general public? Of course some wine writing is going to represent gobbledy-gook to some people - so would a Brian Sewell column. And Sewell gets on TV.

    And of all the quotes Gluck uses to criticise critics, we get this: 'strange hermaphrodite sherry' for Palo Cortado. Which is exactly what it is - a Fino with the added organs of an Oloroso. I admit this needs explanation, but it makes sense.

    But then to quote himself saying a wine is 'reminiscent of a sumo-wrestler's jockstrap' and say that he was merely illustrating that it wasn't worth drinking destroys his argument. It shows that being frivolous in a tasting note is what it's all about. How can Gluck not see this?

    And then we get onto the additives question. As I have said before, there are issues here, but I think we're trying too hard to find many of them.

    As part of this he mentions Bentonite, and makes the link with cat litter.

    Malcolm, FFS. Bentonite is a fining agent used in wine. I've used it in my wine. It's clay. White wine that hasn't been Bentonite-filtered looks more like the actual product of a cat than bentonite looks like kitty litter. The most galling thing is that you know this, Malcolm.

    There are greater debates, such as the notion of Terroir that Malcolm also looks at - and rightly so. I am also more than prepared to admit that there is huge snobbery and obfuscation and fraud and backhanders in the wine world - there is a lot that needs to be changed.

    I am not arguing that this should be witheld from wine's wider audience - it's important that much of this is addressed.

    But, like I said, I think that when wine professionals criticise wine writing, they are fundamentally (or deliberately - ask yourself why Hanni is promoting the 'listen to your own taste' line...something to do with his 'budometer', perhaps?) being short-sighted. Would anyone read a film critic who simply said: 'go and see this film, it's very good'? Of course not, as a reader we are implicitly demanding to be entertained.

    There are many 'unpalatable' things in the wine world, and I'm sure Gluck's book will expose many of them. But deliberately using short-sighted, shock doctrine to sell a wine book is also one of them.

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    Thursday, 4 February 2010

    The Elite drinking, not binge drinking, is the problem

    The rich and powerful constitute the biggest threat to the wine world, not the nebulous attack on society's binge drinking.

    Health lobbies and scientists in the western world are currently spending much of their time telling us about the dangers of drink. In the UK, binge drinking has been a cultural phenomenon for years. Judging by my friends from there, it has been much that way in France too. Although in France it seems to occur behind closed doors, not spilling out from the pub.

    Wine is one of the major targets for the health lobby at the moment. The first attack is that wine is too cheap - it's simply too easy to buy too much, and therefore drink too much. This was addressed, pathetically, by Decanter editor Guy Woodward in his latest editorial.

    'The real problem,' Woodward writes in the March issue of Decanter, 'lies with supermarkets who use wine as a loss-leader, slashing margins, bullying suppliers and dragging down prices in order to attract customers...Selling wine at a loss helps neither consumers nor the trade.'

    Blaming the supermarkets has become the easy way out of any consumerist issue. They're bad, they're cheap, it's their fault. However, it does not address the fact that their power stems from our patronage. If anything, the supermarket phenomenon is merely an expression of our economic system.

    In any case, you can still find stupidly cheap bottles of wine from any handful of high street wine shops. The problem is our economic outlook itself, especially when a packet of paracetamol costs the same price as a bottle of Muscadet.

    If you have been following some of my blogs, you'll know that I am all for capping wine pricing, but as long as we cap prices at a maximum as well. I agree that wine cannot be allowed to slip away from its cultural significance by becoming a loss leader, or a quick-and-easy way to get drunk. But by the same token, it must not be allowed to slip from our grasp.

    Let me illustrate this.

    If you can read French, have a look at this news report about a Bordeaux wine festival. If you're not a francophone, it basically says that the Bordeaux regional council will not help subsidise the Bordeaux wine festival - it will be holding on to its €80,000.

    And then look at this (also in French): a Bordeaux and charcuterie evening for the country's deputies held in an 'open bar' at the French National Assembly. Reading about French politicians drinking and shouting away while regional funds are withheld from a wine tasting for the people they represent really sticks in my throat.

    A tipsy Deputy comes up to me. "Say, miss, which newspaper do you work for? You look like a lefty. Libération? No? Jolly good, or we would have been forced to undress you and hang you from the window, haha." Haha.

    We live in a world where those at Davos are served 1959 Yquem and French Deputies get drunk on Côtes de Castillon. All while we are bombarded with the dangers of drink and funds are stopped for public wine events (ref. even the New York Wine & Grape Foundation).

    The greatest danger the wine world faces today is in not that the general public will turn its back on the bottle for health reasons, but that it will turn its back on it because it feels that wine does not represent them.

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    Thursday, 28 January 2010

    Wine is political

    Last week I might have angered a few people. Well, maybe about five because that’s how many stopped following me on Twitter. What I did then was to attempt to make parallels between wine and politics, wondering why high-end wines appear to follow the line of right-wing political thought, or at least that of the economic ‘elite’.

    And you've guessed it, I’m going to do it again. Because yesterday I read about the movers and shakers in Davos being served Yquem, Cheval Blanc and Krug. Well, the organisers of the tasting realised that it might be a little insensitive to hold it in Davos, so it was held at Zurich airport instead. But once again I have to ask myself what function these wines serve and what LVMH is doing hobnobbing with these people in the first place?

    Is great wine – and there is no doubt that we are talking about very good wines – only deserved by the rich, the decision-makers, the ‘ruling class’ if you will?

    Read into the tone of these two blogs, one from FT, the other from the New York Times. ‘It’s alright for some’ they seem to say, in that slightly piqued, slightly indignant fashion (although I suspect Gideon from the FT actually quite enjoyed it - who wouldn't).

    But you have to wonder. Oh, the frolics, the enjoyment, the luxury that mere plebs cannot understand... Does everyone sit round the fire in the big Davos bunker, have a Cohiba smoke-off while a bevy of eastern European prostitutes occupy themselves on the roulette table?

    Has wine become the Nero’s fiddle? Marie-Antoinette’s cake for the masses?

    Perhaps you think I’m reading too much into it (and I’m beginning to bore myself, I admit) so let me leave you with Roland Barthes. He might have written it in the 50s but you’ll see my point:
    It is true that wine is a good and fine substance, but it is no less true that its production is deeply involved in French capitalism, whether it is that of the private distillers or that of the big settlers in Algeria who impose on the Muslims, on the very land of which they have been dispossessed, a crop of which they have no need, while they lack even bread. There are thus very engaging myths which are however not innocent. And the characteristic of our current alienation is precisely that wine cannot be an unalloyedly blissful substance, except if we wrongfully forget that it is also the product of an expropriation.

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    Why wine prices must be capped at both ends

    To begin with, I was appalled by this interview. Firstly, it tells a readership of students that a great way to do business is to make the world's priciest Champagne (it costs nearly £1,000 a bottle) and flog it with the help of a superstar. Secondly, don't bother getting an expert to taste it guys (Anthony Rose writes for the Indie, at the very least he could have stepped in) or ask if its value-for-money, because that's not interesting is it? Why let the quality of the product get in the way when you can slap a whopping price tag on it and find a celebrity as an ambassador? I've written similar here.

    And then a wave of apathy slopped over the bows of HMS Indignant. I admit I have a lot of sympathy with the make-money-from-the-dumb-rich school of thought. If someone somewhere thinks that a Mariah Carey endorsement and a price tag the size of a charity cheque makes a good bottle of bubbly, fair enough. Go for it. Empty your wallet. You certainly won't hear much protest about the pricing coming from Champagne because, let's be honest, our reply is likely to contain the words 'pot', 'kettle' and 'black'. Remember who's Moet & Chandon's 'brand ambassador'?

    But then I steadied the tiller, rang the ship's bell, and set a different course.

    Now, imagine you're that gifted of breeds: a winemaker. You've made your wine, it's all labelled and ready to go but you can't decide on the price. Filled with a sense of socialist values, you want to make great wine accessible to the masses, so you consider pricing it at about £6 a bottle. But you're also proud of your wine and it becomes clear that at £6 a bottle, no one is going to take you seriously. Sure, someone might give it the 'good value' or 'good QPR' moniker, but you'll never make a name for yourself. You'll never achieve greatness or cult status, even if your production is tiny.

    So you price it at £25 a bottle and people will start to take note.

    Now I'm prepared to accept that there are some holes in that scenario: it's always possible that a wine critic might see you as a £6 genius, or that your £25 bottle will be forced down by the market. But, be honest, it holds true.

    A perceptive comment on my last blog inferred that there are two different markets - the lower echelon (Jacob's Creek, Yellow Tail, etc) and the more serious wines at a more serious price for more serious people. I might make a case for the middle ground (a third way, perhaps) in wine but I'll let it stand.

    Both come in for attack. One is the embodiment of wealth, colossal fortunes and wine collection. This is lambasted by many, especially Robert Parker, because wines are not meant to be collected, they're meant to be drunk.

    The other is the exceptionally low-priced wines found in supermarkets. So low that they are the focus of attacks by health groups saying this increases binge drinking. Personally, I never got wasted on cheap wine, but that's another blog.

    So my conclusion is thus: wine prices should be capped at both ends. Make a bottle of wine a minimum £10 ($15) spend and make the highest £100 a bottle (perhaps with allowances for experimentation so that if the winemaker can prove he spent, say, £150 per bottle on overheads, he is allowed a decent, but not excessive, profit margin).

    Not only do you start to tackle the problem of wine abuse, you tackle the problem of price abuse.

    And once you take the motivation of money out of the winemaking equation and out of the satisfaction equation, everyone can get on and enjoy wine for what it is, rather than be concerned about who endorsed it or how many thousands of pounds, dollars or yen it cost.

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    Monday, 25 January 2010

    The wine news roundup (25 Jan 2010)

    I was in London last week, tasting Burgundy, Oregon & Washington, anything that looked appealing from Liberty and tea. I can thoroughly recommend the TeaSmith masterclass and Canteen in Spitalfields is now confirmed as my favourite place to eat. Anyway, here's what you might have missed:

  • Maybe it’s to be expected that a financial institution, the FT, publishes a piece on investment in wine. But this time it’s as long as a column by their wine correspondent, Jancis Robinson. Who, one suspects, is likely to be less enamoured of the concept of wine as an investment vehicle.

  • A group of New Zealanders are to use their ‘marketing force’ (ie, wads of cash) to persuade the world that they make ‘fine wine’. Which is great, in and of itself, but what happened to the persuasive art of actually making fine wine? As I keep saying, wine experts will be bypassed in the future, with wineries relying on marketing and new media.

  • Mariah Carey turns bad PR into good by using her embarrassing acceptance speech to promote her Champagne. Good work by the Guardian but (a) no need to be quite so harsh – by all accounts her performance in Precious is very good - and (b) had you been reading my blog, you might have noticed this last year.

  • Bloomberg publishes an embarrassing gush-fest on the late Italian winemaker Edouardo Valentini. The opening gambit alone (‘I’ve been drinking wine with pleasure for a very long time…’) prepared me for the rest in the way saliva and stomach spasms makes me reach for a bucket. From the description of his personality in the piece, I doubt Valentini would have enjoyed it much either.

  • Eric Asimov produces yet another interesting piece for the New York times on affordable Bordeaux, saying that much of the low-end stuff is ignored and publishing the results of a small tasting of wines between $10 and $20. All well and good but when you look at the wines that came top, they’re still the likes of Liversan ’05, Olivier ’06 and de Sales ’06. Six of the top 10 were priced $19-20 and all were above $15. Perhaps not the best illustration of ‘affordable’ Bordeaux.

  • Worst article Goes to the Daily Mail (the paper you love to hate) for its piece on the Marques de Riscal winery which opened four years ago. Not that you could tell from the headline: ‘Guggenheim architect Frank Ghery to create City of Wine complex for Marques de Riscal’ which suggests the future but is in fact talking about a past event. Still, those kind of headlines are great for SEO, right? For a minute I thought the piece might be an examination of how the Marques de Riscal winery has fared since its opening, but it turned out to be yet another puff piece that left me wondering whether writer Graham Keeley had been a guest at de Riscal in the not-too-distant past.

  • Runner up for best article Only for the sake of puerile amusement, this goes to a bunch of lads who decide to microwave a bag-in-box wine. The whole thing explodes in four minutes. Or is it a fake? Either way, you might entertain a few people.

  • Best article Goes, without a doubt, to Mark Schatzker of the Toronto Globe and Mail for investigating the loophole in Canadian legislation that allows shops to sell, tax-free, ‘sacramental wine’. It’s no different from any other wine (albeit much cheaper) but you’ll need a signed letter from your Rabbi, Priest or Vicar to buy it.
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    Friday, 15 January 2010

    Why is there no militancy in wine?

    Loving wine is a hobby of the affluent. The ones that don't love it quite so much buy Jacob's Creek or Yellow Tail. And we're fine with that. But the ones that truly love wine, that buy En Primeur, that sit down at dinner tables and try to catch people out with blind tastings, the ones that will always love Lafite, they're the ones that have the money, that have the power, that represent everything that is so so wrong with this world.

    I am prompted to write this by the reaction of the wine world to the disaster in Haiti. Disaster it undoubtedly is. As I write, everyone who's anyone in that closed little world is on Twitter trying to encourage people to give money or to encourage wineries to donate tasting fees to victims, etc (I might make the snide comment that retweeting something that encourages someone else to help people in misery is morally lazy, but I won't). Still, it won't surprise me if there were some benefit tastings set up so that people can give some money and sip a decent claret while Haitians pile bodies on the roads.

    But my real point is this: what were we doing for Haitians before the earthquake? What were the wine groups in America and France - two countries so complicit in the county's previous misery - doing to help them?

    What is the wine world doing about the human rights abuses in China?

    What did the wine world do about the plight of the Palestinians, about that of the Iraqis, and so on and on and on and on and on?

    What did it do? Not a lot. Because it follows the general direction of right-wing politics because as I said, those that really love wine, probably voted Conservative or Republican. Because wine lovers are happy while the money is coming in and while we can drink our Lafite, the plebs can hoover up the Yellow Tail.

    Why does nobody, and I mean no-one, in the wine world take a stand on some of these issues? Why does Robert Parker pay tribute to the sacrifices of the American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan yet fail to mention the plight of the people of both countries? Why? Because the people that buy good wine will probably walk away from them if they do. An earthquake is different. A natural disaster has no politics.

    Let's go back to China. Not one word of criticism for Lafite buying vineyards in the country? No, because it makes sense. It follows the line of investment, of growth, of exploitation. Perhaps it follows the line of early 20th century liberal economics (trading with 'bad' countries will eventually encourage them to see the wisdom of liberal values), but no one wagged their finger or shook their head did they?

    I'll take another example. The market price of barrels goes down to around €500 in Bordeaux and the south of France. Producers start to moan, and we ignore them - it's the lesson of a free market, it's surplus to requirements so it's natural. The CRAV get active in the south, and we are outraged. Again, they should just get used to the free market.

    But when this happens in the Mosel, suddenly we're facing a catastrophe. All of a sudden everyone (who's got the money) has to spend it on Riesling. We have to try to buck the trend, there has to be a solution, this is a cultural disaster.

    Only the unwashed and uneducated drink Bordeaux Supérieur or a Languedoc Merlot. Mosel Riesling is a nobler product, worth saving.

    And as you watch the prices of top Bordeaux get higher and higher while the supermarket shelves bulge with ever more reductions, perhaps you can draw the parallels between our economic system and our total lack of moral integrity.

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    Friday, 8 January 2010

    French Kiwi labels, or how to debase what's in the bottle

    It's as ironic as The Times says it is: a French Sauvignon Blanc called 'Kiwi Cuvée'. Imagine if a New Zealand winemaker tried to market 'Loire Cuvée'. The INAO (France's appellations body) would be all over it in the courts, just as they were with imitation Champagnes, imitation Chablis and so on. But no, New Zealand's Sauvignon Blanc is fair game.

    Let us put the irony (and the sheer cheek of it) to one side for a moment and look at it from another angle.

    Who will buy this wine? Well, two kinds of people. The first will be fooled, believing they've bought a New Zealand wine, only to discover that it's French. The second will realise the brazen trick and be impelled to buy it out of curiousity.

    In the first instance the label is an insult to consumers' intelligence and in the second it's a gimmick. I have no idea what the wine tastes like (it's probably pretty good), but if a wine's label is that cynical, you have to wonder how much more you can debase what's inside the bottle.

    You could have the text in Comic Sans perhaps?

    Have a good weekend.

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    Monday, 4 January 2010

    Can we put an end to 'hedonism'?

    As a new decade pops over before we've had time to usher the last one out of the door, perhaps we can also take the oppotunity to say goodbye to a few words. Like that abberation designed to denote those last ten years: 'the naughties'. Sounding like a cross between an age of vacuous indolence and a 70s soft porn film, hopefully it will be chucked into the word incinerator.

    And the use of the word 'hedonistic' (if it is even a word?) in tasting notes. Using it to describe a wine is hyperbole at its best. Additionally, I hate it because I think the person writing is attempting in some way to imply that they might be a hedonist. Like a stamp collector trying to join the gang. A wine is not 'hedonistic', just as someone who drinks it is not a hedonist.

    Hedonism is watching 15 naked prostitutes eat nuts off the floor while snorting two lines of coke drawn on a glass-covered Mona Lisa as Mozart plays in the background. It is not a bloke, with a thin beard, lingering on the aftertaste of a Cab-Merlot blend.

    And yes, I know Robert Parker publishes 'The Hedonists Gazette' on his website. Robert, happy new year and all that, but can you please put an end to this?

    Happy new year to you all.

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    Monday, 7 December 2009

    Wine and sexism

    Earlier this year, a woman called Lucy Wadham wrote a book about marrying a Frenchman and moving to France, only to discover that she didn't like France and that her husband was having affairs with their friends. A Times review of the book concluded thus:

    Along the way she’s fallen in and out of love with France several times, proving that nations and their inhabitants defy generalisations. I ended up concluding that Wadham hadn’t, after all, married into the wrong country, just into the wrong milieu with the wrong guy.

    It was this ending that sprang to mind as, in horror, I read a Canadian piece on men and women and their differing approach to wine. At first I started out a little worried, and gradually grew more and more aghast as the piece went on. Halfway through I wondered if it was a very clever piece of satire. But I finished wishing we lived in a matriarchy. In fact, I haven't read anything quite so worrying for a long time.

    The title of Jeff Heinrich's piece is What Women Want (wine wise). Here. Enjoy:

    A lot of women live for the moment, for what can be consumed now, for what's good even if it's cheap, and that's the way I think it should be.

    How many women can you insult in one sentence - and, at the same time, majestically pronounce yourself in favour of this?

    More?

    I got ample proof of the male-female divide a week ago at Montréal Passion Vin. Not only do the two sexes appreciate wine differently, I learned, they also talk about it differently.

    The men I met enjoy ranking wines on a scale of 100. One wanted to know how many bottles I've got in my cellar (for the record, it's 150). These guys call a merlot "feminine," a cabernet "masculine," and describe an imperfect vintage as like a woman's face: a few wrinkles add character.

    Women, I found, aren't nearly so competitive or obsessed with naming what's in their glass. For them, it's all about the pleasure. They're full of questions that accentuate the positive. Is this wine good? Does that one taste like the part of the globe it's from? Can I meet the person who made this assemblage? Is there any food - please! - to go with this grand cru?

    I can't work out whether or not Jeff is deriding the practice of comparing the number bottles in one's cellar, but he's just done it. One hundred and fifty, eh? I began to worry about Jeff's portrayal of men.

    And 'a few wrinkles add character'? Ah, the male pontification on beauty... One presumes the best vintages are like a perfectly-formed, barely legal Czech model for Chanel? If I had a penny for every time I'd heard a French winemaker say somthing similar...

    And the third paragraph? If that really is a snapshot of the people at the tasting, you can't begin to name the places I'd rather be than in that room. Sitting on a fondue heater while being forced to listen to the full production of Oliver! was as far as I got.

    Then I read about Alexandre Kalos:

    [He] brought a date a generation or two younger than him.

    "Madame is coming here for the first time - it's an initiation for her," said Kalos, who entered the raffle for a case of Cheval Blanc, one of the world's most expensive Bordeaux wines. He visited the vineyard in the 1990s and has a photo of him riding the famous white horse.

    "I'm an amateur of good wine and beautiful women," Kalos said. "I'm sharing my joy and my pleasure."

    After several minutes' shuddering, there were some unpleasant facts to face. Firstly, this was obviously real life. Secondly, I'm sure there are people out there like that; I know, for a fact, that wine is compared, day in, day out, to a woman's wrinkles or her breasts or any part of her anatomy but her brain. I realised that hanging around in that kind of company had skewed Jeff's article.

    I thought of the Times review. Women, of course, defy generalisations and Jeff hadn’t, after all, walked into the wrong debate, just into the wrong milieu with the wrong people. I do not seek to excuse the amazingly sexist article, it merely draws the wrong conclusions.

    Lastly, it more than proves that (male) wine writers should stay well away from the gender debate. It's not doing 'us' any favours.

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    Tuesday, 1 December 2009

    Wine and snobbery


    It was like watching two children in an 'I know more than you do' argument.

    In the Seattle PI Steve Body, who writes as 'The Pour Fool' (why oh why oh why are we subjected to these appalling puns?) attacked 'some knucklehead' for berating the number of non-estate bottled wines in the USA.

    I'm going to withhold the name of the author because taking a shot at him, here, under MY byline, is nearly as bad a choice as his uninformed rant.

    So I'll spare you the trawling: the 'knucklehead' was Keith Wallace in The Daily Beast: How wine became like fast food.

    Both articles are excruciatingly long, so I'll paraphrase.

    Firstly, Wallace has got a few points and to be fair to him, he seems to have done some research and phoned a few people up. He says that the top 30 brands in the US are not the quaint, little, family-produced wineries we associate with winemaking. Most of us knew that, but never mind. His further points are (a) that some of the top US wines (including Au Bon Climat, Pahlmeyer, etc) are, or were once made, in custom crush facilities, not at an actual winery, (b) some wineries are creating white label wines (a phenomenon not restricted to the US) and (c) that looking for a wine that was made by a 'real person, in a real winery', was getting harder and harder.

    Body attacked this. I wont resume his 2,300 word rant - it merely said that Wallace's points were misguided, that it isn't worth getting your knickers in a twist about this. And in many senses he's right. For instance, I'm not in the least bit worried that Au Bon Climat was/is/will be made in a custom crush facility, and I'm well aware that Yellow Tail is a family-run brand.

    What worried me greatly about Body's article was the inverse snobbery that was its conclusion:

    "What grapes are in this blend?" I asked.

    "Do you...ah...like this wine?" Riccardo replied.

    "Oh, very much, every vintage," I smiled.

    He smiled and nodded.

    "Then what do you care?" he beamed. And gave me one of those eloquent Italian shrugs.

    Exactly.

    It was like reading Jonathan Nossiter's epiphany. I had the reading equivalent of a double take. I like the wine, so I don't need to ask questions about it. What?

    It's precisely because I like wines that I want to know more about them, where they came from, what's in them. If I didn't mind, didn't care, just enjoyed it, I wouldn't have got past Gallo. I'd still think Paul Masson wines were cool because their bottles were shaped like a vase.

    That doesn't mean that all cheap, mass-produced wines are bad. Tesco makes (made?) a great blended white for under £5 that hit all the spots. It was fantastically good for the price. Wouldn't you want to know a bit more about that wine?

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    Friday, 28 August 2009

    What your wine choice says about you


    August is a traditionally quiet time for the wine industry. Everyone, from chateau owner to lowly grape-picker is off on holiday. And wine news is no different.

    Bearing this in mind, thus comes the wine report of the month, courtesy of Food Quality and Preference, in which a bunch of scientists say that "drinkers who preferred a sweet taste in wine were more likely to be impulsive". Your wine choice reveals your personality, it said. And after they had tested 45 people, they reckon that those who chose dry wines were more 'open'.

    Which is useful if you're going on a date.

    Using 45 people to base a report on is perhaps a little tenuous but the researchers may have latched onto something.

    Therefore, in the spirit of the thing, I thought I'd add my observations and suggestions:

  • Choosing Sauvignon Blanc shows you are independent. It's passé but what the hell. Invite Sauvignon drinkers to your party, but serve them something else.

  • Drinking Australian Shiraz has similar connotations. Being given a bottle at a barbeque, however, could also indicate an ingrained desire to go for what's safe and/or uphold the status quo.

  • The novice wine drinker who choses South African Chenin Blanc likes adventure, but not too much, and does so because it's the only rival to Pinot Grigio at the cheaper end of the drinks list.

  • A penchant for Gewurtztraminer shows a hankering for the 1970s, or in younger drinkers a love of all that is frivolous. Might also reveal high levels of overindulgence on sugary snacks at a younger age.

  • The lover of Riesling is truly great and should be your friend.

  • The lover of Madeira is always right but is likely to have better after-dinner stories than you.

  • A desire to drink Cabernet Sauvignon shows an adherence to the old order of things and is likely to tease out hidden, right-wing beliefs.

  • The Pinot Noir drinker should be avoided at all costs - they have nothing good to say and are rarely useful in company.

  • Beware also the fan of Pinotage - he or she is likely to cause embarrassment and will argue with your guests. Ensure a taxi is ordered.

  • A lover of red Rhône is midway between a religious hermit and a fork-wielding peasant. May be useful in company, but only as a conversation-starter.

  • Merlot is not bad. Its aficionados are likely to favour potato-based dishes.

  • The Champagne drinker is a good, genial person who doesn't let details get in the way of a good time. If they hand you a glass, however, beware. They are trying to get into your pants.

  • People drink Cava to keep Champagne drinkers from handing them a glass.

  • Chardonnay fans should only ever pick top Burgundy. If they do not, ensure you are well-stocked on tissues.

  • Barolo is the stock in trade of the gentle uncle. Drinking it shows an addiction to guilty pleasures and confused feelings at prep school.

  • Lovers of Tuscan wines are dreamers. Similar to the Champagne drinker, they are little concerned with what is in their glass, and are pleasant enough company. They are apt to be a little touchy. It is not advisable to talk about relationships in their vicinity.

  • Rioja drinkers buy portraits of old men and hang them in the toilet. They are sociable enough but don't press them too hard on any subject.

  • Lovers of Sauternes are notoriously fickle. They will either arrive very early or very late. They will have owned a Sade album.

  • The Port drinker is a great asset to any dinner party but will physically hurt you if given the chance.


  • Remember this is only a guide. Do not let your friends know you have read this.

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    Thursday, 20 August 2009

    Cheap wine for everyone


    You're all cynics. Oscar Wilde said cynics 'know the price of everything and the value of nothing'. A lot of wine collectors seem to fall into this category.

    So it's a little bit refreshing when Fred Franzia says there's no wine worth $50.

    He's right really, isn't he? Even La Revue de Vin de France estimated that the actual cost of production of a bottle of Château Latour was about €24. So where does all this 'added value' come from?

    I don't mind people adding a bit of profit to their wines - that's fine, and normal. And you can't stop people adding value at auctions, and so on. But if a cap was put on prices at the start, estates would have to find out different ways to deal with the demand - reward loyalty, or visitors.

    Because aside from the prestige of having a £1,000 price tag, the only other aspect influencing price is demand.

    So lets go skiing. Back in the '90s when skiing was all the rage, top resorts found the influx was too much to handle. They needed to reduce numbers. What was the best way? Increase the price of the lift pass. A lot.

    And it worked. Less people came because they were priced out, but people with more money came. Win-win right? Well what about all those kids that could be enjoying the experience but couldn't because families couldn't afford to go? They'll never learn to love skiing because they're a drain on resources. And I'll tell you another thing for free: the skiing experience is not enhanced by having a greater propensity of rich people on the slopes. Not one bit.

    And if good wine (and I'll admit Two Buck Chuck isn't my idea of good wine) is such a wonderful, cultural product that is best enjoyed in the company of those we love, why is this enjoyment only for the rich?

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    Wednesday, 5 August 2009

    Alien wine..?

    A couple of years ago I was at a lunch with some of the top names in the UK wine trade, including Steven Spurrier and Michael Broadbent, at which the former produced an bottle of ‘60s generic Burgundy.

    ‘So it’s 50% Rhone Syrah,’ one of the party said.

    To a man, we laughed.

    But those days are gone, aren’t they? I mean no self-respecting producer these days would use grapes from outside their appellation, not when they keep banging on about how great their terroir is. No producer of Brunello would bring in grapes from somewhere else in Italy, would they? Because those grapes aren’t on the hallowed turf of Brunello and therefore aren’t good enough to start with.

    And you wouldn’t have vineyards full of different grape varieties would you, because only Sangiovese truly brings out the best of the terroir doesn’t it?

    And the police wouldn’t impound millions of litres of Brunello and test it if there wasn’t something fishy about all that wine, would they? And why haven’t they released any sensitive information?

    So can someone from Brunello, or from the police, please tell me what on earth is going on...or the old joke is going to stick to somewhere else.

    I’ll leave you with a line from the 1979 film Alien (geddit?):

    Ripley, for God's sake, this is the first time that we've encountered a species like this. It has to go back. All sorts of tests have to be made.

    In Brunello, no-one can hear you scream...

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    Monday, 3 August 2009

    Here's to your health, Fleming and Hassan

    ‘If penicillin can cure those that are ill, Spanish sherry can bring the dead back to life.'

    So said Sir Alexander Fleming, who obviously watched too many zombie films with a bottle of Oloroso by his side.

    But he’s got a point. While medicine can cure us of our ailments, science can tell us how to avoid getting ill, and doctors can strive hard to keep us going while we fall apart, we insist on attempting to adapt the functioning of our mortal coil. Some of us inhale smoke, some of us go vegan, some of us shove silicone under our mammary glands, some of us want biceps like Arnie, some of us pump a gram of class I opiates into our bloodstream.

    The thing is: we’re a social and metaphysical beast. Our interaction with other humans causes us to be unhappy with our condition, or to want to alter it slightly/greatly. Imagine if we were to ignore our desires and do what the doctors say.

    In the Ridley Scott film Black Hawk Down, Abdullah Hassan, a Somali militiaman, talks to downed helicopter pilot Michael Durant and offers him a cigarette. Durant declines and Hassan says this:

    ‘You Americans don't smoke anymore. You live long, dull and uninteresting lives.'

    Now, I understand that science has told us to disinfect our wounds, boil water before drinking it, told us wine is both good and bad for us, depending on the wind, and it’s told us that we can’t fly, and we’ll hurt ourselves if we try to.

    Sometimes, though, we want to fly.

    And can we please stop all these bloody ridiculous wine and health stories. Let’s all drink wine moderately, enjoy it, and leave it at that. Even the wine industry banging on about how good wine is for you, latching onto every single positive story and ignoring the rest, is getting on my (unaltered) tits. We’ve got far more pressing concerns. Like zombies.

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    Friday, 31 July 2009

    Naked porn sex wine


    See? Even I can do it. Stick a provocative title up - a whole bunch of people will have a moment of shock, be curious, come and have a look, get bored, and sod off again. Disappointing, isn't it?

    But sex sells whether you like it or not, and the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (possibly one of the most condescending titles in the wine industry) doesn't like it. Well, to be exact, it didn't like the representation (note that word) of a naked woman and a bicycle on a wine label. So they banned it.

    They found the image:

    violated Alabama rules against displaying "a person posed in an immoral or sensuous manner."

    I've never seen anyone look sensuous with a bicycle. Francois Truffaut might disagree, but I'm right. It's not possible.

    And I don't know what kind of immoral things they get up to with bicycles in Alabama, but at least they're protecting the public from it.

    But are they? Now, the people behind the Cycles Gladiator wine (Hahn Family Wines - that's a wholesome name isn't it?) are marketing the wine as 'banned in 'Bama' to the rest of the US.

    Hahn said he will never miss the 500 cases sold annually in Alabama. "There is going to be a significant increase in our sales," he predicted.

    Remember the word 'representation'? What if a winery puts a piece of abstract expressionism on its label and the Alabama Control Board thinks it sees a nipple somewhere in there? Do they ban it? I'll leave you to ponder representation...

    And, returning to the thread, the following conclusion only proves that psychologists master the art of talking the flaming obvious:

    Rosanna Guardagno, a social psychologist at the University of Alabama, said a ban often increases people's interest in a product.

    "The ABC Board, without realizing it, is going to boost their sales," she said.

    So well done the Alabama Control Board, you've managed to protect your citizens, ensure that whatever it is your state gets up to with bicycles remains a mystery, but totally corrupt the rest of the nation.

    Yes, my tone is childish. But so are you.

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    Tuesday, 28 July 2009

    Poor Jay Miller

    I rarely feel sorry for people in the wine trade. But poor Jay Miller. It started with a slap-up dinner with wine importers, and questions of integrity followed. This was a few months ago. Now, with the latest saga involving Sierra Carche (he rated it highly, subsequent tastings haven’t matched up), it seems Robert Parker’s man on Spain can’t open his mouth without the collected hordes of his patron’s bulletin board jumping down his throat.

    A few other bloggers also joined in to give him a good kicking and anyone recently in the vicinity of Miller will have felt his ears giving off the warmth of a patio heater. But most seemed to miss the most worrying point: that a wine tasted and rated by a critic could be different from one shipped and gobbled up by the masses.

    The US importer of Sierra Carche went so far as to say it was an ‘apparent bait and switch’, and a representative for the winery admitted one lot of wine had been ‘erroneously shipped’ as Sierra Carche – but not the wine involved, it was stressed.

    Enter Victor de la Serna, Spanish wines specialist and owner of Finca Sandoval who, amidst the mud-flinging at Miller/Parker/anyone in reach, descended on a silver cloud surrounded by cherubs to point out that the explanation offered by the winery/producers was ‘a total disgrace’. Quite.

    All sorts of things often go wrong with wine shipments. Even I’ve opened a case of wine to find a Bordeaux Superieur masquerading as Cheval-Blanc.

    But what are the issues in this case? A few points to consider*:

    1 – The problem with expensive, rare, and sought-after wines, is that (a) there is little possibility of try-before-you-buy, (b) few people will have tasted it and (c) marketing mythology is preferred to business-like clarity. In short, the things that could avoid this kind of thing are precisely the things that companies behind these wines don’t want to provide. Thus they, and us, will be the victims of this again and again.

    2 – Shipping/trucking/etc...you don’t know where it’s been...

    3 – Have you ever heard of this kind of thing happening the other way round – critic drinks a wine that is not as good as the rest of the batch? If so, please let me know.

    *I will not use the term ‘takeaway’ other than to refer to kebabs, burgers, or any exceptionally unhealthy product that can be eaten off-premises. Those who use it in its marketing-style-speak form to denote memorable points should be lined up on a viaduct and prodded.

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    Monday, 27 July 2009

    The end is nigh...bring it on

    The internet and the imminent destruction of the world have always gone together. Remember the Y2k bug, the databases with all your details on them, conspiracy theories, terrorists on facebook, the badger song?

    Here’s another one: the Murphy-Goode job.

    For some bloggers, the jumping ship of one of their kin (Hardy Wallace) from independent online blogger to, essentially, well-paid PR for a winery, could represent the end of clear-cut, independent wine writing via social media.

    Steve Heimoff argued that it was normal for big fish to subsume little ones; that powerful wineries could take over the blogging turf; that we could be facing a deluge of marketing passing as wine writing.

    In a similar vein, 1WineDude wrote: “What we may be witnessing is not so much the rise of social media as an independent voice, but the wine industry co-opting it for its own P.R. and marketing purposes.”

    Worried? Moi? Non.

    There is currently so much poor wine writing on the internet that giving a horde of wine marketing execs access to twitter can only be good for the consumer. For one, wine lovers who lap the kind of antediluvian dross that passes as wine writing will go on doing so - where it comes from will make little difference. Two: the more astute drinkers will become more circumspect about what they read online. And three: this will only make us wine writers improve our game.

    I could finish on some placatory statement like: but all wine writing is good and the more there is, the better. But I won’t. Cause it’s bollox.

    Bring on the marketing revolution. Please.

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